Biden ups Ukraine aid, signs budget bill allocating $13.6 bn

Washington, Mar 15 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a $1.5 trillion budget bill that includes $13.6 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, promising to provide more details on Wednesday about how the package will “alleviate suffering” in the wartorn Eastern European nation.

At a White House ceremony, Biden signed the huge spending package that was approved last week by both chambers of Congress and which contains the additional aid for Ukraine, which is trying to fight off the massive military invasion Russia launched against it on Feb. 24.

Russian President Vladimir “Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has united people all across America, united our two parties in Congress, and united the freedom loving world,” said Biden.

“We’re moving further to augment support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country,” the president said, adding that on Wednesday he will provide more details about exactly what is being done by the US to aid Ukraine and how the new funds will help Washington to be “better positioned to provide for the rapidly growing humanitarian need of the Ukrainian people.”

On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to virtually address both chambers of Congress, the second time that he has spoken to US lawmakers in less than a month.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged in her daily press conference on Tuesday that it is probable that Zelenskyy “will ask for more money” to deal with the Russian invasion when he addresses Congress.

Of the $13.6 billion in funding recently approved for Ukraine, almost half – $6.5 billion – will go to the Defense Department to help maintain its military operations in NATO countries in Eastern Europe as well as to send military materiel to Ukraine, in accord with the draft of the bill.

The funding for Ukraine also includes about $4 billion to help refugees and internally displaced persons, while $1.8 billion will be allocated to respond to the economic needs of Ukraine and its neighboring countries on issues such as energy and cybersecurity, for instance.

In addition, $25 million will be destined for combating disinformation and $120 million will to go the US Agency for International Development to help activists and independent media.

In all, the $1.5 trillion spending package includes $782 billion for defense, a 5.6 percent increase over last year, and another $730 billion to finance US domestic needs and programs.

The measures includes funds to ensure reimplementation of the Violence Against Women Act, a law against machista violence and to help victims of mistreatment and sexual abuse, as well as to provide them a way to seek justice in the courts.

That law dates back to 1994 and had been periodically renewed in Congress until conservatives allowed it to lapse in 2019.

The budget package also includes $400 million for so-called Pell Grants for low-income university students, along with $1 billion for research on cancer and social programs in Puerto Rico.

It is noteworthy that the budget bill does not include any Covid spending, although the White House had requested $22.5 billion in new spending for vaccines and treatment. That element of the package, however, had to be dropped from the bill after some Democratic lawmakers rebelled against proposed cuts in aid to their states to pay for it.

The huge spending bill will fund US government operations for the current fiscal year through Sept. 30 and, although it is being enacted five months late, the funding for Kyiv within it emerged as a area of bipartisan agreement for the measure, with lawmakers pressing Biden to devote more funds to counter the Kremlin’s agenda.

EFE llb/ssa/dmt/bp

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